Famed tennis star Venus Williams become the first American black woman to be ranked #1 in the world. She is credited as changing the women’s game and ushering a new, modern era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour.
Her seven Grand Slam singles titles tie her for twelfth on the all time list, and is more than any other active female player except for her younger sister Serena Williams. Yet, even with all of those accomplishments, Venus had to walk away from her favorite sport due to her health.
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In 2011, Venus announced her withdrawal from the U.S. Open tournament after being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome. The rare autoimmune disease (pronounced SHOW-grins) that forced tennis star and seven-time Grand Slam champion out causes debilitating joint pain, swelling, numbness and fatigue.
Up to four million Americans are living with this chronic condition.
“I think I’ve had issues with Sjogren’s for a while. It just wasn’t diagnosed,” Williams said. “I just didn’t have any energy,” Williams said. “And it’s not that you don’t have energy; you just feel beat up. The good news for me is now I know what’s happening,” Williams said, adding that her doctor diagnosed her with exercise-induced asthma four years ago. But it wasn’t until this summer, when she developed more definite symptoms, that an accurate diagnosis was made.
Deciding to drop out of the U.S. Open wasn’t easy, Williams said.
“… I just felt like, ‘Okay, I could walk out on the court. I’m a tough woman, I’m a tough athlete, I’ve played through a lot of things.’ But what kind of match it would be?” she said. “It was a tough decision, but at the same time I’ve had to come to accept what I’m going through.”
Williams said she’s glad to finally have an explanation for her mysterious, debilitating symptoms.
“It’s a huge relief because as an athlete everything is physical for me — everything is being fit and being in shape,” she said. “I think the best thing that could have happened for me this summer was to feel worse so I could feel better. Sjogren’s is something you live with your whole life. I feel like I can get better and move on.”
Williams said she “absolutely” plans to return to tennis.